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close this bookTrainer's Guide for Training of Elected Officials (HABITAT)
close this folderPart III - Workshop learning components
View the documentOverview
View the documentReading
View the documentPresentations
View the documentDiscussions
View the documentStructured exercises
View the documentCase study
View the documentRole playing
View the documentSimulations
View the documentInstruments

Case study

Under this heading we are placing two types of exercises used extensively in this handbook series: (a) the traditional case study as first used at Harvard University late in the nineteenth century, and (b) an abbreviated but potent version of the case study called the critical incident.

Traditional case studies

The case study is an actual or contrived situation, the facts from which may lead to conclusions or decisions that are generalizable to the real-life circumstances of those taking part in the exercise. Put another way, a case study is a story with a lesson. Cases used in training can take many forms. They may be quite long, complex, and detailed. Or they may be short and fairly straightforward similar to the one- to three-page variety found in the handbook series.

The case method assumes group discussion. The well constructed case stimulates participants to take a spirited role in analysing and offering opinions about: (a) who was to blame, (b) what caused a person to behave as he or she did, and (c) what should have been done to prevent or remedy the situation. The more important contributions of the case method to training include:

· Discouraging participants from making snap judgements about people and behaviour.

· Discouraging a search for the one "best answer."

· Illustrating graphically how the same set of events can be perceived differently by people with similar backgrounds.

· Encouraging workshop participants to discuss things with each other and to experience the broadening value of interaction.

· Emphasising the value of practical thinking.

Critical incidents

Closely related to case studies, critical incidents are brief, written descriptions of difficult situations faced by people in their work or their personal lives. Because they involve real problems, problems of vital and immediate concern to people, processing of critical incidents can have enormous learning value for the individuals concerned and for others who are likely to face similar problems.

Critical incidents used in workshops come from several sources: (a) the workshop participants themselves; (b) participants in earlier workshops; (c) anecdotal information collected by the trainer through interviews and surveys; (d) secondary source material (journals, books, and manuals) on the topic; and (e) the trainer's fertile imagination. The critical incidents used in the workshop on The Councillor as Power Broker, for instance, were suggested by a trainer from Uganda who was involved in the initial field testing of the Elected Leadership training materials. His source was situations revealed to him by participants at other workshops in which he served as an instructor.

When preparing a critical incident for use in a workshop, there are several design ideas to keep in mind:

· Keep them short (several sentences is usually enough) and simple so they can be read and understood quickly by workshop participants.

· Because incidents are short, they need to be tied directly to the workshop's objectives.

· Irrelevant facts often added to case studies to help participants learn to separate important issues from unimportant ones should be omitted from critical incidents.

· Nevertheless, be sure to include enough detail about the problem to make the point the incident is meant to emphasize.

Workshop participants may be asked to write and discuss critical incidents of their own during the programme itself or in advance as a pre-training assignment.

The content of each incident is expected to have a direct relationship to the training topic. For example, the handbook on The Councillor as Negotiator includes a warm-up exercise which gives participants the task of recalling, writing down, and sharing their experiences (incidents) in negotiating something.

When asked to write a critical incident, participants usually are given a worksheet and instructions by the trainer. They are told to think of a difficult situation related to the training topic in which they were involved personally. They are asked to describe the situation in detail, who was involved in it, and the role they played. Depending upon how the incident is to be used, participants might be asked to explain what was done about the situation, the consequences of this, and how they felt about it.

In summary, case studies and critical incidents present workshop participants with examples of actual work situations with which they are familiar. The realism of the more extensive case studies and the direct involvement of participants in them can serve as a powerful inducement for the acceptance of new ideas and ways of thinking. Critical incidents, whether created on the spot or provided by the trainer, have highly relevant learning value for workshop participants who face similar challenges in their own roles.